Good horse health begins with good teeth

Dr. Susan O'Brien checks WildmaN for any swelling before working on his teeth Monday in Gypsum. O'Brien says the teeth extend past the eyes in the mouth of a horse.
Chris Dillmann | Special to the Daily |

Contact Dr. Susan O’Brien

Colorado On-Site Veterinary Services">Text">


EAGLE COUNTY — Wildman doesn’t generally live up to his name, and he was downright sedate when Dr. Susan O’Brien went to work on his teeth.

O’Brien is a local veterinarian who focuses on equine dentistry, acupuncture and chiropractic care.

Because she’s a vet, she also works on all creatures great and small. She does her small animal work through Vail Valley Animal Hospital.

Caring for those creatures on one recent day included driving an injured hawk to Glenwood Springs, where it would be treated and released into a wildlife sanctuary. Whether it stays there is another matter; hawks tend to be upwardly mobile.

When we caught up with her, O’Brien was at the Triple Z Ranch between Eagle and Gypsum to work on Wildman, a stunning 18-year-old black and white paint, and Sandy, a 6-year-old with a spirited young man’s disposition.

They needed to have the teeth “floated,” something O’Brien and other veterinarians suggest having done on your horse at least once a year.

“Almost everything about good health begins with their teeth,” O’Brien said.

Horses, it turns out, need good teeth for the same reasons you do. To be able to chew properly and without pain, in order to digest.

Horses tend to grind points onto their teeth where they don’t come in contact with other teeth while they’re chewing. That creates sores on the inside of their mouths. O’Brien showed up in her huge white Dodge Ram pickup truck — the modern veterinarian’s version of a little black bag — with all kinds of veterinarian gear.

Vets need all kinds of gear because horses are big and specialized equipment is needed to work on them.

O’Brien is originally from the Youngstown, Ohio, area. She looked at a map and decided to follow Horace Greeley’s greatest admonition, “Go west, young man,” or in her case, woman. She set out for Colorado, landed in Eagle County and launched Colorado On-Site Veterinary Services in March 2015.

“I wanted to specialize in the preventative aspects of veterinary medicine,” she said.

Horses are a lot like humans, which explains why many from one species tend to enjoy the company of the other.

When she’s working on a horse’s teeth, the horse is sedated but still standing and conscious. Because of the vibration and all that is going on their mouths, they really need to be relaxed.

She uses a mouth speculum made of lightweight aircraft aluminum to hold their mouths open.

Since O’Brien puts her arm up to her elbow in its mouth, the horse’s sedation and her self-preservation are closely related.

The Power Float has a diamond bit to grind the points off the tooth enamel and a stream of liquid flushes everything away. The shop’s vacuum removes enamel and water.

The final step is to rinse the horse’s mouth with a blue disinfectant solution. Just think of it as ListerEquine, and you’ll do fine.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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